The night was empty. Not a wind, not a chill; pale crescent glow bullied by greedy clouds— they’ve devoured even the twinkling lights both manmade and divine. These days, a curse seemed to have encroached on me, a lich draining all the joys that was supposed to be mine on evenings like this.
I watched the shadows lazily stretch and dance with each passing vehicle, headlights attacking me as I strolled the dark street. I just wanted to go home, take a bath, eat something cheap, and soak on the artificial happiness that is falsely promised by modern technology.
Something caught my attention as I approached the street corner. Whether it was intuition, or simply resonance, I glanced. I knew it before it made itself known: a kitten, weakly jumping out in innocent hope that I was kind, or kind enough. I wondered about that myself, wondered why I find more humanity in empathizing with a stray animal than noticing the filthy creature that was supposed to be human huddled among the pile of trash and junk.
I passed by without a word, without another glance.
The night was empty, and so was I.
But not this street that I found myself in. I turned around, confused. Did I just sleepwalked, blanked out? For a moment, I felt terror. I’ve seen enough horror movies, both low-budget and disgustingly overflowing with special effects and clichés, to realize that maybe, just maybe, those stupid people who died in them aren’t really stupid at all. I looked for the street sign; it was too rusted. The stores were all closed— a bit surprising since it was only past 7pm… or at least it’s supposed to be. I checked my wristwatch, and the time on my mobile phone.
“Don’t bother,” a voice behind me said, “even time is forgotten here.”
I whirled around defensively, hands clenched and ready. And cold. The voice belonged to a large man, muscled, carrying a big sword. Simultaneous thoughts crashed all at one: Why does he have a sword / cool, where did he get that? / Oh God, this is how I’m gonna die.
But he just sat down on the sidewalk, his sword propped on the rusty corrugated fence. He whipped out a carton of cigarette, and lit one. He puffed, I coughed; he offered me his stash. I mutely shook my head. He shrugged as he replaced his smokes on his backpocket. “Name’s Warrior.”
Yes, I laughed at him. In secret. Internally. He has a sword. But the fact is, I was more concerned of the cigarette smoke drifting towards me than his sword slicing in my direction. I wrinkled my nose. “I think I got lost.”
Warrior looked at me as if I just told him the best joke he’s ever heard. “Lost? That would have been great, or better.” He took a long pull on his cigarette, crushed it under his shoe while sitting, and exhaled dejectedly. “No, my friend, you’ve been forgotten. Just like the rest of us.”
Us. It took me a while to notice that we were not alone on the street. I hated being alone, but I somehow knew I’d hate being alone with them. They gathered around us, eyes hungry for recognition. I stared back at them, hoping someone would recognize me as well.
“Hi, I’m Beautiful,” said a shy woman in her thirties. She was wrapped in drab clothes. I tried to get closer so I can see her face better, but she quickly stepped back in alarm. Small fingers boldly gripped my hand. “I’m Childhood,” a young boy earnestly smiled. His other hand was holding a what seemed like a broken toy that somehow filled me with both longing and dread.
Two men caught my attention. Despite everyone’s deplorable looks, they appeared dignified— their unkempt, stained clothes unable to fetter their true natures. One bowed at me. “I am called Honor.” The other lifted his chin. “I am the Prince.” Believe me, I was tempted to ask him to sing.
Everyone seemed eager to introduce themselves, but I just had to ask the question. “Where are we? And why are you all here?”
The Warrior looked at me with his look of amused sadness. “I’ve already told you, right?” I blinked as I tried to recall what he said. The Prince sighed condescendingly. “Welcome to the junkyard of existence: Oblivion, a place for all things and beings when there’s no more room for us in the Lost and Found.” I saw Childhood clung to Beautiful, only to be ignored by her. Honor nodded at Prince, and continued his explanation. “Many of us end up here because people forget about us, or what we’re supposed to be. And the rest… well, the world has moved on and left us behind.” The Warrior spat on the ground; I can’t blame the world for discarding such gross habits.
I don’t want to be forgotten, I thought in fear. I looked at everyone, familiar faces too vague to remember. I don’t want to be here.
“How do I get out of here?” I demanded. Childhood cried, “I want to know, too!” and this time, I avoided his touch. I was starting to get annoyed at him. “Has anyone ever escaped from this place?”
“Escaped? No.” Beautiful softly said, her voice trembling. “We are prisoners here.”
“We are worse than prisoners,” Honor grimly added. “Prisoners know what holds their freedom: walls, bars, or chains. We’re just trapped on this street. Free to walk around, but never to walk away from. And what truly pains us is when we see people walking by with hollow imitations of our selves— without even recognizing that they are.”
“So that’s it? We’re stuck here without even a fight?” I angrily said.
“Dude, we’ve tried.” Warrior sighed. “Not all battles can be won by sheer effort.”
I know, I wanted to shout at him. I know that too well, I wanted to tell myself as I hold back my own tears. Why else would I be here among the forgotten?
The Prince studied me curiously. “You haven’t told us your name.”
I gaped at him. In horror, I realized I couldn’t tell him. I didn’t want to tell anyone.
Something small and hairy brushed against my leg. And purred. I blinked, and saw two eyes glisten at me in the dark. And gave a meek meow.
The night was empty, and the street was, as well. I reached down to pet the little creature, who eagerly rubbed its little head on my palm. And playfully bit my finger. It was hungry, and so was I. And the homeless man a few feet away from me, as well.
I walked away. I steeled my heart to walk away.
But I can’t. Not now. Not anymore.
I came back a few minutes later. The kitten was still on the spot where I left it. I reached for my small bag of cheap bread, got one piece, and gently left the bag on the dirty sidewalk where the homeless man was. I didn’t say anything, nor did he thank me. His eyes didn’t lit up; he just kept his head down, took a piece of bread to eat, and tore a small piece for the little kitten.
I went home without looking back on that street corner, nibbling on a piece of bread I saved for myself. My stomach felt empty, but my mind was too full with questions. Questions that I knew would be forgotten again— just as I keep forgetting who I am, hiding an emptiness behind a name.